Tajik Authorities Keep Fiddling as Economy Smolders


Economic expert says quick action to develop green economy is needed.

In striving to counteract the country’s image as a font of Islamic militantism, Tajikistan’s leaders are dodging underlying economic problems. Instead, they keep attacking the issue around its edges. 

The spotlight has been on Dushanbe since March, when Tajik militants carried out an attack on a Moscow concert venue that left over 140 innocent civilians dead. Two Tajiks were also implicated in an earlier 2024 suicide bombing in Iran that killed 95, and was carried out by the Islamic militant group Islamic State Khorasan Province, or ISIS-K.

Throughout the spring, Tajik President Imomali Rahmon’s administration has relied on repressive tactics while trying to convince the outside world that it has Islamic radicalism under control. Authorities’ latest move to contain radical Islam in Central Asia’s poorest nation is the pending adoption of a formal ban on the wearing of hijabs. For those working in public-sector jobs, at the bazaar or in higher education, informal bans have long existed on the wearing of hijabs by women and the wearing of beards by men. But now the Tajik parliament is in the final stage of making things official via the adoption of amendments to a law covering national traditions.

A reliance on repression is nothing new for Tajik authorities. The government has for years resorted to forceful measures to keep a lid on all forms of religious expression not conforming with beliefs explicitly endorsed by the state. Further tightening the screws is unlikely to have the desired effect of containing dissenting beliefs and practices, many regional observers believe. A root cause of the growth of militant actions is the lack of economic opportunities for most citizens, they add.

Writing in the journal Foreign Affairs, a leading scholar of Central Asia, George Washington University professor Marlene Lauruelle, contends the tightly controlled version of Islam endorsed by the Tajik state isn’t meeting the spiritual needs of the population, a majority of which is living at or below the poverty line. Tajikistan’s official Islam is facing growing competition from “a more religious, universalist and rebellious interpretation of Islam,” Lauruelle adds.

“For many in the younger generations in Tajikistan, Islam offers an attractive code of morality and discipline, a shelter from the immiseration and repression in their country,” Lauruelle writes. 

She stresses that the Islamic beliefs now gaining popularity inside the country and, crucially, among the hundreds of thousands of Tajik labor migrants working in Russia and elsewhere, are not a “harbinger” of Islamic militant behavior. She argues “social marginalization” is a stronger driver of militantism among Tajiks than “religious fervor.”

A continuing crackdown on Islam in Tajikistan “will not end rural poverty, the humiliating lives that migrants lead, the lack of economic opportunities, the dissatisfaction of young people, or the difficulties migrants face integrating into host societies,” Lauruelle asserts. The implication is that Tajikistan needs to address the economic root causes of popular frustration, if it is serious about wanting to counter militantism’s appeal.

At present, the economic picture is bleak for Tajikistan, and conditions look unlikely to improve in the near future. 

A growth outlook issued by the Asian Development Bank in April contained a litany of grim news. Economic growth is projected to “decelerate” in 2024-25, according to the bank, “due to weaker remittances, fiscal space constraints, and subdued global demand for Tajikistan’s major export commodities.” Accordingly, the GDP growth rate is forecast to reach 6.5 percent in 2024, down from 8.3 percent the previous year, a 1.8 percent year-on-year decline.

At the same time, the threat of food insecurity is rising for many Tajiks, as the agricultural sector comes under mounting stress from a growing population and an increasing shortage of arable land. Climate change and global warming also is causing glaciers to melt at a rapid rate, a major source of concern for a country “heavily dependent on glacier-fed rivers for hydropower generation,” according to an ADB statement.

“Tajikistan faces significant climate challenges and risks that could lead to irreversible economic, social, and environmental damage,” the statement quotes the bank’s country director for Tajikistan, Shanny Campbell, as saying. “Developing a green economy is key for the country’s sustainable growth.”

Source: Eurasia